After several weeks of wondering what a new blogger (such as myself) should write about, I decided to just wait until the words are inside me waiting to tumble out…..and thus would begin my first blog ever. Would it be a short biography? Perhaps something witty? Something about my bees? I never thought it would be a vignette about the death of one of my beloved animals. But, that is what is heavy on my heart and mind, and needs to be written.
February 2nd, Monday morning 6am: I am out feeding everyone before work. 6 dogs, 11 cats, 1 geriatric pot belly pig, a bunny, chickens, guineas, and a turkey (all rescues), and our 9 horses. It is still dark outside. The horses know that it’s breakfast time, and they are waiting at the barn. Only as I am feeding, I realize that Dooley, our youngest horse @ 1 ½ yrs, is missing. Mild panic always sets in when a horse doesn’t show up for a meal. They are punctual as a rule (unless a mare is in heat and pining for a fellow across the fence….then hormones just might overrule their stomach). Dooley has never not shown up with the herd, and so my panic escalates a bit. I head to the house, grab my cellphone and a flashlight, and wake Charlie up (who has been suffering thru an explosive stomach virus since the night before). I jump in my truck and start driving thru the pasture looking for the little guy. He’s not exactly little. Really, he’s mostly grown. I get to the front pasture, and find him, laying down by the round bale. I got out of the truck and started walking towards him, calling to him. He raised his head as if he had been in a sound sleep, and then struggled to get up. As I approached, I could tell something was horribly wrong. I couldn’t tell if it was neurological or musculoskeletal, but clearly he was in pain. He tucked his head into my chest and shook. Then I saw his right front leg. I have seen my share of leg injuries and hoof injuries but I had not seen this before. There seemed to be no stability in the leg, and so although he had it straight, it wasn’t touching the ground. I called our vet, Susan, and she headed our way, straight from her house. Poor Dooley was in so much pain, and wanted nothing more than to just bury his head in my arms as I stood beside him. Susan arrived in about 30 minutes, and after a preliminary examination and a shot of bute for the pain, she verbalized what I was thinking. His leg or shoulder was most likely broken, but she wanted xrays to make sure. Susan headed back to the clinic to get the portable xray machine, and we (Charlie was now with me) were given the job of getting Dooley to the lower turnout shed where there was an electrical outlet. In the hour she was gone, we were able to move him about 30 feet. A horse is not built to hop on one front leg, and adding tremendous pain to the equation did not help matters. The second vet visit did not reveal anything on xrays regarding his lower leg. The suspect bone, the humerus, lays across the outer part of the shoulder blade on a horse. Because it is such dense tissue there, a portable xray machine cannot take definitive pictures, so we had two options: load him in a trailer and take him to a equine specialist about an hour away, or give him a day of stall rest, and pray for the best. At this point, we knew that the xray results would not solve anything, other than letting us know immediately that euthanasia was the only answer to Dooley’s suffering. I was horridly worried about loading and trailering him, as he has never been hauled anywhere before. I felt like the trauma of forcing him to load, making him stand 3 legged in a swaying trailer, being away from his family, the pain factor etc, was all just too much to ask of Dooley…..just for an immediate diagnosis would not be fair to him. So, we very very slowly made the trek up the pasture to our barn, a few hops at a time, then resting. I got him in the stall right around lunchtime. He and I were exhausted (and Charlie had long gone back to bed to nurse his stomach virus).
The rest of Monday was spent waiting and watching and praying.
February 3rd: my birthday, but not a good day. Another day spent watching and waiting and praying. Dooley’s pain seems to have abated a bit with medication, making me want to believe that perhaps he just had a really bad bruise on his shoulder and needs stall rest. However, now he had swelling in his shoulder, and he dragged the toe of his damaged leg when he hopped (a sign of nerve damage). He nickers to his family, and eats and drinks. I have a teeny tiny bit of hope, and I am clinging to it. Waco, his mom, keeps leaving the herd and coming to stand by his stall door for hours at a time. He is comforted by her presence. It is so touching. She is forever the mama, even when her babies are mostly grown. I go in the stall many times during the day, and brush him down and talk to him. It is during one of these times in the late afternoon, that I am gently pressing on his shoulder, and I feel/hear the bone on bone sound (technically called crepitus) when slight pressure is applied. Dooley swings his head around and bumps me. “Enough of that.” He says. I am in tears, because I know what I feel is the break. I can’t call the vet. Not on my birthday.
Wednesday February 4th: As much as I don’t want to go to work this morning, I’ve got to go. I missed work Monday and luckily was scheduled off Tuesday. Although my co-workers at work are the best, I feel guilty missing another day. I have put off calling the vet. If I don’t talk to her, then I can live in limbo land …..and live with my ounce of hope that I’m wrong. I get to work and try to keep myself pulled together emotionally. Charlie is at home still recovering from the stomach flu, so I know Dooley will be checked on regularly. I plan on calling the vet in the afternoon, but she beats me to it by calling me about 10am. She is coming out about 5pm tonight, and I am not looking forward to seeing her. I ask my boss if I can leave early, and he kindly allows me to make the drive home a couple hours earlier than normal. Susan comes, and absolutely confirms what I thought I had felt. There is no doubt. He is a broken vessel that cannot be fixed. "All of the kings horses and all of the kings men"……I think briefly about Barbaro, the famous racehorse that was euthanized last year for a broken leg. They were able to use “all the kings men” and all “the kings money” too (which was probably over more than I make in a couple of years), and it still did no good in the end. I am always in awe at how such a large animal can have such relatively delicate legs (and shoulders), but I digress.
So. It is agreed. Susan goes to her truck to put things together, and we get Dooley out of the stall. By this time, all of the horses have come up and are watching things closely. What? How do they know how important this time is to say goodbye? He “hops” thru his herd, and they all nose him and call to him. We take him to a smaller adjoining pasture, as that is about as far as he can go. The horses are all standing in a row, 20 feet away. Watching. Calling to him. I don’t know which is sadder….watching them say goodbye to him, or me having to say goodbye to him. The ending is completely painless for Dooley, but my heart is broken. The horses are mourning. They stand by the fence for hours after he is gone. Waiting for him. I would challenge anyone who thinks that animals don’t have feelings of sadness to witness something like this, and not be moved to think differently.
Horses are mentioned in the Bible over 150 times. However, if you add all the equine (donkeys etc) references together it surpasses even the mentioning of sheep (the #1 animal in the Bible, obviously). I am enjoying the thought of Dooley joining the ranks of the white horses in heaven (he was a bay tobiano, whose body was mostly snowy white….when he was clean). They have a big job to do, those white horses in heaven…..
“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True.” (Rev 19:11)
I hope they enjoy him up there. He’s going to make some angel a great horse.